Tag: Charlotte (Page 1 of 3)

PSM – CHARLOTTE

Joey Gladstone returned to the site of the most unforgettable race of his career – the out-and-out worst one ever and at the same time the absolute best: the 2021 Carolina Nationals, where his best friend, team owner Cory Reed, crashed right in front of him in round two and then a freak mechanical glitch in the final ripped away an in-the-bag first major victory.

Riding the crest of a season-long wave of success, Gladstone landed in a second consecutive Charlotte final – sort of. He was there for the last round, the third Pro Stock Motorcycle quad of the day, but at the Four-Wide Nationals the third- and fourth-place finishers are considered semifinalists. Still, it was a fantastic weekend, yet another late-round finish that catapulted him to fourth in the NHRA standings, the highest he’s ever been this deep into a season.

“I’m living my dream,” said Gladstone, who reached the semi’s at the season-opening Gatornationals and the quarterfinals in Houston. “I can’t express how proud I am of my team.” Led by Reed and longtime crew chief Cecil Towner, Gladstone made his best qualifying run all weekend right off the bat, a 6.80/198, followed by a 6.86/197 under better conditions Friday night and a 6.88/199 and 6.82/197 on Saturday.

Sunday in the first round, Gladstone edged reigning NHRA world champ Matt Smith, 6.84/200 to 6.86/198, to finish second behind Angelle Sampey’s outstanding 6.76/199. (Under the four-wide format, the top two in each “quad” of four bikes advance.) With a 13.43 at 45 mph, Kelly Clontz finished a distant fourth.

In the semi’s, in one of the more memorable moments of his entire career, Gladstone lined up against three former world champions and whipped all three – Eddie Krawiec, Sampey, and Jerry Savoie – with a 6.81/198. He outran Krawiec, beat Sampey on a holeshot, and Savoie, who was quicker than any of them with 6.78/199, red-lighted.

“That’s three gangsters in the other three lanes,” Gladstone said. “Last year, I really got my heart ripped out in the final, and this year I’m going to ride my heart out.” He did, drilling winner Krawiec and winner Steve Johnson with a .037 reaction time, but slipped to his worst run of the long weekend, a 6.90/199 that left him well short of Johnson’s winning 6.74/200.

“A four-wide isn’t like a regular final,” he said. “You know in the back of your mind the whole time what your odds are. Instead of having to beat one guy, you’ve got to beat three, so the pressure’s not the same. We may have slowed down and finished fourth, but I’ll take it. That first win is coming.”

PSM – CHARLOTTE 2021

Cory Reed, who’s shrugged off who knows how many motocross injuries but until now had had never been hurt on a drag strip, was lucky to survive a harrowing top-end crash in round two. Immediately after crossing the finish line at 190+ mph in a thrilling side-by-side match with teammate Joey Gladstone, Reed’s bike veered toward the opposite lane and just kept going.

Hanging further and further off to the left until he almost wasn’t even on the bike anymore, Reed never did get it to come back, finally tangling with Gladstone and going down hard. The bike catapulted high into the air and smashed into the wall while he tumbled down the unforgiving zMax Dragway pavement in a frightening scene.

Gladstone managed to avoid becoming entangled with Reed’s errant mount, came to a safe stop, and, when he whipped around to look back uptrack, was horrified to see Reed laid out on the asphalt, immobilized by multiple injuries. Gladstone sprinted toward his fallen comrade, arrived almost simultaneously with safety personnel, and, when the ambulance pulled out of the track, was right in there with Reed, who would undergo the first of multiple surgeries that night.

Gladstone made it back to the track in time to defeat incoming points leader Steve Johnson in the semi’s only to watch an in-the-bag first career NHRA victory dissolve before his eyes in a heartbreaking final against Angelle Sampey. The kill switch somehow became disengaged, cutting the power and bringing a sad end to an emotional day for the young racer, who’d strapped a bike-length holeshot on Sampey and was seconds away from the victory of a lifetime.

“It’s drag racing – it happens – but I don’t know what I ever did to deserve this bad luck,” said Gladstone, almost despondent. “It stings, it really does.”

Reed, runner-up here earlier this year at the Four-Wide Nationals and tied with Gladstone in the standings coming into this event, qualified solidly with a 6.99 at 191 mph. He knocked off Sonoma winner Karen Stoffer in the first round before narrowly losing to Gladstone, 6.94-6.93, an outcome rendered meaningless by what happened after they crossed the finish line.

It was exactly the kind of matchup Reed was looking for when qualifying wrapped up. “I like running guys close to me in the points head-to-head,” he said. “Let’s just get to it, right? I don’t need anybody else deciding anything for me. I want to settle it myself.” Now, unfortunately, he won’t get that chance.

PSM – READING 2021

He may not have gone the distance, but at the Mopar Express Lane NHRA Nationals, the first race of the seven-race 2021 Countdown to the Championship playoffs, underrated Pro Stock Motorcycle racer Cory Reed met his stated pre-race goal: go rounds. Running hard in not just the first qualifying session but in all three at legendary Maple Grove Raceway, Reed opened with a strong 6.86 Friday evening and followed with an even better 6.84 the next afternoon.

With a near-perfect .005 reaction time and another 6.86 Saturday evening, Reed nailed down the No. 6 spot in the final lineup, his best qualifying performance all year. “I think we’re finally starting to make a little progress here,” he said, justifiably pleased. “Both bikes [his and PSE/Reed Motorsports teammate Joey Gladstone’s] are set up the same, and now we’ve got them both running the same.”

Pitted against pal Ryan Oehler in the final pair of the first round, Reed got off the mark first and overcame a series of obstacles downtrack to win a crucial points battle by just 16-thousandths of a second, 6.97/193 to 6.98/194. “He definitely could’ve beat me right there,” said Reed, who pulled to within four points of Oehler in the NHRA standings. “It spun bad, and I had to just ride it out. The front end was trying to wash out and the bike was all over the place, but it was race day and I had to stay with it or I’d have lost for sure. If that was a test run, I’d have said, ‘Screw it,’ and shut it off.”

The wheels came off in the next round against superstar Andrew Hines, 6.85/199 to 6.98/191 – not that Reed didn’t have him covered for a good while. “The clutch didn’t lock up enough,” he explained. “We were trying to slip it down low – I mean, you really can’t get too conservative against somebody like him, can you? You’ve got to try to go a .79, right? I thought I was doing all right for a while there, but he caught me around half-track and just took off from there. I’ve never seen anybody go by me like that.”

PSM – CHARLOTTE 2021

The Four-Wide Nationals was the quickest, fastest Pro Stock Motorcycle race ever, by far – but not for Cory Reed. For him, it was another trying, unfulfilling weekend, the third in four outings this year, broken up only by his runner-up showing at 2021’s other Four-Wide Nationals, held last month at Las Vegas.

All around the former Rookie of the Year, drivers were making history in the cool Charlotte air, highlighted by PSE teammate Joey Gladstone, who became the eighth and final member of the prestigious Denso Spark Plugs 200-MPH Club with a 200.23-mph blast. Teams reset the NHRA national speed record four different times over the weekend, including three in the same qualifying session, and when eliminations commenced, Reed faced a former world champion in every lane – not just in the other lane, but in all three other lanes.

And right when he really could have done some damage, Reed’s bike let him down. It wasn’t some everyday glitch; this was something that basically never happens – the front brake started locking up. “I was pre-staging, and the bike doesn’t really want to roll, and I’m like, ‘Is the track really this tight?’ ” Reed said. “It really had a lot of rolling resistance, like more than ever. I didn’t know what the hell was going on.”

Right until he tried to approach the line, everything had been normal. He rattled off three unerringly consistent qualifying passes: 6.87/197, 6.87/199, and 6.85/197. The biggest names in the sport occupied every other lane, but Reed held his own, leaving first and making his best run of the weekend, a 6.83/197 that covered 2016 world champion Jerry Savoie’s 6.84/196 but not four-time champion Eddie Krawiec’s 6.77/202 or three-time champ Matt Smith’s 6.78/201.

“That was probably gonna be a .70-something,” Reed said. “At the 330-foot mark, I was in front of everybody – look at the time slip – but that damn front wheel was dragging and they went around me. Just add it to the list, I guess. I don’t get it. Sometimes, drag racing doesn’t make any sense. You take off, and you know it was a decent light and you start to think, ‘Oh yeah…’ And then the farther you go, the more something’s slowing you down. In the shutdown area, I didn’t even have to apply the brakes. The bike did it for me.”

TAFC – CHARLOTTE 2019

Annie Whiteley’s YNot/J&A Service Camaro dominated Carolina Nationals Top Alcohol Funny Car qualifying with not just low e.t. but low e.t. of all three qualifying sessions – 5.46, 5.46, and 5.44, all at 271 mph, including top speed of the meet to that point, 271.84. Her slowest speed was faster than anyone else’s fastest. “There were a couple of times we thought we could run quicker,” she said, “but when [crew chief] Mike [Strasburg] really looked at the track and saw all the bald spots, he backed it back down.”

The 5.44 for No. 1 came as a direct result of Strasburg’s last-minute fine-tuning expertise. “He started adjusting the barrel valve right there in the lanes,” Whiteley said. “I was all strapped in and ready to go, and when I saw him walk back, dip under the body, and go right for the injector, I thought, ‘Whatever you think is fine with me.’ ” It worked to perfection and cemented a first-round win over overmatched John Headley, the No. 16 qualifier, who, whether inadvertently or on purpose, rolled right in and turned on both bulbs. “That was weird,” she said. “I saw him do it and thought, ‘OK then … from now on whenever I race you I’ll just be ready before I pre-stage.’ ”

It didn’t matter. Whiteley maintained concentration and advanced easily, moving first and leaving Headley in the dust in a 5.51/268 to 7.27/170 blowout. She bowed out in the following round, an imminently winnable race opposite Dan Pomponio, who’s always had good luck in Charlotte. Chassis-shredding tire shake brought the YNot team’s weekend to a premature end, as Whiteley watched helplessly as Pomponio drove away to a winning 5.54. “It shook so hard I couldn’t see anything anymore,” she said. “Right as I went to pedal it, that tube that goes from the firewall to the left side window vibrated loose and started bouncing around inside the car with me, and at one point it hit me. I probably couldn’t have caught him anyway, but when that thing hit me I said, ‘OK, I’m done.’ “

PRO MOD – CHARLOTTE 2019

In the second-to-last start of his Pro Mod career, second-generation driver Steven Whiteley turned in his second-best outing ever, behind only his victory at the 2017 Gatornationals. Whiteley drilled everybody on the Tree and reached the final round of the penultimate event of the 2019 season, which “Stevie Fast” Jackson won to clinch the NHRA Pro Mod championship. “This was almost better than winning Gainesville,” he said, “just because of who we had to run. It was great to run with the big guys and not just run with them but beat them.”

With one round-win in 20 career head-to-head matchups against Steve Matusek, lifelong nemeses Rickie Smith and Todd Tutterow, and Jackson heading into the Carolina Nationals, Whiteley went 3-1 against them and started from the No. 5 spot, the highest he’s qualified all season. Matusek, like every driver Whiteley raced all weekend, cut an excellent light, and like the other three he still trailed the J&A Service/YNot Camaro off the line. He was the only one who didn’t make it close, falling well short of the first of Whiteley’s first of four consecutive runs between 5.756 and 5.762.

“Tricky Rickie,” who narrowly lost the U.S. Nationals final on a holeshot, outran Whiteley in the quarterfinals but came up seven feet short for another holeshot loss, 5.761 to 5.757. “He’s always had my number,” said Whiteley, who stood 0-8 against the many-time series champ until now. “Every time I ever lined up against him, he chewed me up and spit out the bones, but it’s different with this car. I just feel good in it. Always did, really. With the converter, I feel like I can cut a light.” That’s putting it mildly – he averaged a .019 reaction time for the event, with a worst of .024. He’s averaging a .029 for the season and leaving first 85 percent of the time.

In the semi’s, Whiteley and Tutterow, who led the early season standings before veering across the centerline in Topeka and T-boning Whiteley’s car, both ran 5.75s. The veteran was more than on time with a .021 light, but Whiteley had him all the way with a .016 to win by 8-thousandths of a second. “It felt really good to put that guy’s ass on the trailer, I can tell you that,” he said. “After all the times I’ve run him – especially Topeka – that had to be the round of my career.”

The final ended in a loss to “Stevie Fast,” who clinched the NHRA championship when Whiteley took out Tutterow, but it wasn’t much of a disappointment. “This was a great weekend,” Whiteley said. “We’ve always run well in Charlotte, probably because we test there more than we do anywhere else. Yes, Stevie has been helping us for a while ­– that’s no secret – but not to the degree that he’s been helping my dad’s team. This weekend was all about [crew chief] Jeff Perley. He really showed his colors here.”

TAFC – CHARLOTTE 2019

Former Four-Wide Nationals champion Annie Whiteley just missed a second career victory at Charlotte when her car went ballistic right off the line in the final against Tyler Scott, who’d never been close a national event victory until now. Whiteley, who won the Four-Wides in 2017, went down to an opponent’s all-over-the track 5.70-flat in the final for the second time in a row, again after running flawlessly through the preliminary rounds of eliminations.

Whiteley’s car actually had run great not just all day but all weekend. “It was going perfectly straight, but I probably didn’t make it 60 feet,” said the nine-year veteran, who was in the 21st final of her Top Alcohol Funny Car career. “It’s not like it went into tire shake in the middle of low gear or anything – it just blew the tires off. I came off the throttle as soon as it started to go paint-shaker on me, but there’s no way the car should have done anything like that. I mean, we barely changed anything, and what we did change should have made it less aggressive, not more aggressive. [Crew chief] Mike [Strasburg] richened up the barrel valve three flats. I never expected anything like that to happen, and Mike and the guys damn sure didn’t.”

“The track cooled down a little between the semi’s and the final,” Strasburg said. “It should’ve been fine. The only thing that changed before the final round was the track getting eight degrees cooler, which should’ve only made things better. It should’ve gone right down through there with another 5.40-something.”

By then, Whiteley had every reason to believe she was in line for her seventh career national event title. She’d already made it through what should’ve been the hard part, having slayed the dragon himself – reigning world champ Sean Bellemeur, who won the Gatornationals with a national-record 5.35 – in the semifinals. In the other semi, Scott just had to take the Tree to advance on a single.

“Beating Sean was like winning the whole race, but we still had to win one more round,” said Whiteley, who moved from fifth to third in the national standings with her latest final-round appearance. She and Bellemeur had already blown everybody away with a side-by-side 5.44-to-5.45 classic in qualifying, and she was knocking off her best reaction times of the season round after round. “I decided to just do what I know how to do and not go doing anything crazy. I think sometimes you just try too hard, and I’m not doing that anymore. Getting yourself all psyched up so you cut a light – it just doesn’t work.”

PRO MOD – CHARLOTTE 2019

Steven Whiteley was riding high coming into Charlotte for the Four-Wide Nationals, a Top 5 driver in the standings and one of the odds-on favorites to win the race. Three days later he pulled out of ZMax Dragway a non-qualifier, clearly aggravated and dead set on turning things around after his first first-round loss all year.

Friday was a complete disaster for the young driver, one of the more consistent qualifiers on the J&A Service NHRA Pro Mod circuit year after year. Rain and 41-mph winds killed one qualifying session, and he was timed out on the line in the other one. After a shake-plagued shutoff blast Saturday morning, things weren’t looking good for the YNot team heading into last-shot qualifying, but as it has many times before, they came through under pressure with a 5.78 at nearly 253 mph to make the show.

Anything close to that Sunday morning in the first round and Whiteley would’ve been in the semifinals because only one car in his quad made it to the finish line under power. Whiteley was second off the line, trailing only Sidnei Frigo’s telepathic .015 reaction time with an outstanding .033, and they all crossed the finish line in the inverse order of how they left the starting line. Rickie Smith cut just a .090 light but laid down a 5.77 to finish first, and Chad Green’s 8.27 at 120 mph was enough to advance, literally hundreds of feet ahead of Whiteley’s aborted 10.19 at 87 mph and Frigo’s distant 13.95 at 47 mph. In one of the more unusual heats in the anything-but-orderly history of four-wide competition, nobody was within two seconds or 30 mph of anyone else.

PSM – CHARLOTTE 2019

At the Four-Wide Nationals, which racers in every pro category seem to loathe but absolutely fans love, Cory Reed turned in his strongest performance of the 2019 season. The former NHRA Rookie of the Year started off well and got only tougher from there, advancing to the semifinals in easily his finest performance since he landed in his first career final the at the Dodge Nationals at Maple Grove Raceway late in his 2016 Rookie of the Year campaign.

When absurd 40+ mph winds turned two scheduled qualifying attempts Friday at palatial zMax Dragway into a single session, Reed’s YNot/PSE team clocked an off-the-trailer 6.93 at 192 mph that positioned them in the No. 2 spot at the time. Running in the last of five quads with all the top dogs Saturday in Q2/Q3, Reed stepped way up to a 6.84 at 197.28 mph that propelled him into the upper reaches of the Pro Stock Motorcycle stratosphere. Granted one last crack at the track, Reed’s team showed that the 6.84/197 was for real with a consistent 6.89/196 and entered eliminations smack in the middle of the pack.

In the first round, stuck in the middle of theoretically the toughest quad – 1/8/9/16 – Reed advanced, finishing second of the four with a 6.88/195 that trailed No. 1 qualifier Karen Stoffer’s 6.81/197 but was more than enough to top second-generation driver Jim Underdahl’s 6.93 and former YNot teammate Angelle Sampey’s out-of-the-groove 7.13/151. In the semifinals, Reed left with the other three and outran No. 1 qualifier Karen Stoffer’s 6.95 but his right-there 6.91 wasn’t quite enough to deal with eventual runner-up Eddie Krawiec’s 6.85 or upstart Ryan Oehler’s 6.89. “.040 lights – that’s not gonna cut it,” Reed said. “I can do way better than that. I have and I will – to win, I’ll have to.”

PSM – CHARLOTTE 2018

In his fifth start astride Cory Reed’s Team Liberty Buell, Yellow Corn rider Joey Gladstone got faster and faster in almost every qualifying session and entered Carolina Nationals eliminations primed to give Vance & Hines test rider Chip Ellis all he could handle. Gladstone got off the line within thousandths of a second of the 2008 championship runner-up, but that was the last time he was in the race.

Ellis pulled away with an outstanding 6.77 – low e.t. of the entire event – while Gladstone could only watch him increase his lead with every shift after bogging hard off the line. Qualified 15th and down exactly a tenth of a second heading into their first-round heat, Gladstone wasn’t exactly the favorite against the No. 2 seed, but Ellis doubled the distance between them in qualifying (6.80 to 6.90) to an insurmountable two-tenths of a second, 6.77 to 6.97.

But despite entering eliminations in the second-to-last spot, Gladstone wasn’t out of contention. He’d already outpaced five non-qualifiers to make the Sunday field and stepped it up in virtually every session of qualifying with times of 7.01/193, 6.99/193, 6.90/192, and 6.92/194. For a No. 15 qualifier, he wasn’t far from the top – less than a tenth of a second, actually, with a 6.903 to No. 1 Eddie Krawiec’s 6.806 – but against low E.T. of the meet, no one would’ve had a chance.

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